Date of Completion

Spring 5-10-2009

Thesis Advisor(s)

Daniel K. Mulkey

Honors Major

Physiology and Neurobiology


Other Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Other Physiology | Physiology


An increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) and protons (H+) are the primary signals for breathing. Cells that sense changes in CO2/H+ levels and increase breathing accordingly are located in a region of the caudal medulla oblongata called the retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN). Specifically, select RTN neurons are intrinsically pH sensitive and send excitatory projections to the respiratory rhythm generator to drive breathing. Glial cells in the RTN are thought to contribute to this respiratory drive, possibly by releasing ATP in response to increases in CO2/H+ levels.

However, pH sensitivity of RTN glial cells has yet to be determined.

Therefore, the goal of my thesis is to determine if acutely dissociated RTN cells can respond to changes in pH in isolation. To make this determination I used ratiometric fluorescent microscopy to measure intracellular calcium in dissociated RTN cells during changes in bath pH.

I found that a small percentage of RTN cells (16%) respond to bath acidification from pH 7.3 to pH 6.9 with an increase in fluorescence indicating an increase in intracellular calcium. Preliminary electrophysiological findings suggest that responsive cells are unable to make action potentials, thus suggesting their identity to be glia. These results indicate that a subset of pH sensitive cells in the RTN are intrinsically pH sensitive and that glia cells may possibly play a role in central chemoreception.